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J Neurophysiol. 1988 Nov;60(5):1779-98.

Response properties of cochlear efferent neurons: monaural vs. binaural stimulation and the effects of noise.

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Department of Physiology, Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138.


1. Discharge properties of olivocochlear efferent neurons were measured in anesthetized cats. Previous studies of these neurons concentrated on monaural stimulation with tones and found sound-evoked discharge rates rarely exceeded 60 spikes/s (16, 20). In the present study, rates as high as 140 spikes/s were achieved by binaural stimulation and/or the addition of noise. Based on studies on the known effects of electrically stimulating the efferents such high rates of sound-evoked efferent activity probably have significant feedback effects on the auditory periphery. 2. Spontaneous discharge rate (SR) was weakly correlated with threshold among efferent neurons: those with SRs greater than 1 spikes/s were generally more sensitive than spontaneously inactive fibers. The discharge rate measured in the absence of acoustic stimulation was shown to be dependent on stimulation history: some units with zero SR became spontaneously active after several minutes of continuous noise stimulation. 3. For stimulation with monaural tones, efferent excitability varied with characteristic frequency (CF): units with CF less than 10 kHz tended to have lower thresholds, higher discharge rates, and shorter latencies than higher CF units. These differences could be minimized by the addition of broadband noise (see below). 4. When tones were presented to one ear at a time, most efferent units appeared monaural (91%), with roughly two-thirds excited by ipsilateral stimuli and one-third by contralateral stimuli. However, the effects of simultaneous stimulation of the two ears suggested that the great majority of efferent units have binaural inputs: the addition of opposite-ear noise or tones, which presented alone were not excitatory, typically enhanced the response to main-ear stimulation. This type of binaural facilitation was strongest among low-CF efferents when the opposite-ear stimuli were tones, and strongest among high-CF units when the opposite-ear stimulus was broadband noise. 5. The binaural facilitation seen using opposite-ear noise both lowered the threshold (by as much as 40 dB) and increased the discharge rate (by as much as 80%) to tones presented in the main ear. Significant facilitation was seen with noise levels as low as 25 dB SPL or tone levels as low as 30 dB SPL. In general, the weaker the response to monaural stimuli, the stronger the binaural facilitation. 6. The facilitatory effects of stimulation with continuous noise could outlast the stimulus. Persistent increases in efferent sensitivity were documented following 10-min exposures to broadband noise at 85-115 dB SPL.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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